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DUI Laws in Washington State: What You Need to Know

DUI Laws in Washington State: What You Need to Know

“Depending on how many we catch, doesn’t necessarily mean there’s not a hundred other people out drinking or doing drugs and driving…It’s just unfortunate that sometimes people are just driving, minding their own business, and they get hit—blindsided from out of nowhere.” ~Washington State Trooper Chris Thorson Driving Under the Influence of drugs or alcohol is a serious crime in Washington State and can result in serious criminal and civil charges that could potentially affect the rest of your life. Make no mistake—the State of Washington is SERIOUS about reducing incidents of impaired driving.

“A DUI can be indicative of an alcohol problem. Take a look at our 28-Day Alcohol Recovery Program.”

What is Driving Under the Influence?

Driving under the influence is also called driving while impaired, or driving while intoxicated. It refers to the offence of driving a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol. Someone who is driving under the influence is not able to operate a vehicle safely. Driving under the influence is frequently called a DUI. In Washington State, driving under the influence laws are very strict. Unfortunately, people often get multiple violations under these laws. Others may drive under the influence for years without ever getting caught. Both are good indicators of alcoholism or a drug addiction. Many of the accidents in Washington State are caused by DUIs. These crashes cost more than $45 billion every single year in damages.

Legal Definition of Driving Under the Influence and Law

In the United States, a DUI is a criminal charge. In some states and counties, a DUI may also be called a DWI, which means driving while intoxicated. A person may be guilty of a DUI when one or two of the following two conditions are met:

  1. The individual is mentally impaired enough by substances to render him or her unable to operate a vehicle safely.
  2. The individual has a blood alcohol level (BAC) that is above the legal limit for the state.

Every state has strict DUI penalties, and Washington State is no exception to this rule. A first-time offender may be required to go to AA meetings, NA meetings or other classes. If the individuals BAC level was quite high, stricter penalties may be attached. They may have to have a breathalyzer attached to their ignition to prevent driving under the influence. Also, there may be high fees that must be paid to the state. Some BAC levels may even result in double the penalties. People who drive under the influence and get arrested are at risk for losing so much. Not only is this a costly offense, but it may result in the loss of a driver’s license and other strict consequences.

Driving Under the Influence in Washington State

DUI laws in Washington State say that someone may be arrested and convicted of a DUI if:

  • That individual has a BAC of .08 or more, and is also 21 years of age, or older.
  • That individual has a BAC of .04 or more, and is driving a commercial vehicle.
  • That individual has a BAC of .02 or more, and is younger than 21 years of age.

The legalization of marijuana has also heavily affected DUIs in Washington State. Now more than ever, people are frequently driving after they have used this drug. Many of them may drive under the influence of marijuana because they feel it’s safe to do so. The fact is that marijuana can render someone just as incapable of operating a car as alcohol. The same is true for other drugs, such as prescription drugs, heroin or cocaine. In WA State, the law says that a person with a THC of 5.0 after two hours of driving is considered intoxicated. THC levels are tested through blood analysis.

The New Washington State DUI Laws and Penalties

There are also other ways to get caught driving under the influence in Washington State. According toFox News, as of July 2017, it’s also possible to get a DUI for driving while on the phone. This is being called an E-DUI. Distracted driving is considered to be just as dangerous, if not more, as driving after drinking or using drugs. The law prohibits any driver from using a cell phone or other electronic device while driving. This law even applies to those who use these devices while they are stopped at traffic lights. This new law comes as a result of the dramatic increase in deaths from distracted driving. Research shows that there have been 32% more deaths between 2014 and 2015. For these new Washington State E-DUI penalties, hefty fines will be given out to violators. They will also see these violations appear on their driving records, and be reported to their insurance companies.

General DUI Information

Most people really know very little about Washington State DUI penalties and laws. In fact, you may not know much about driving under the influence at all. Did you know that:

  • It doesn’t matter which type of alcohol you drink? Consuming too many drinks in a short period of time could result in a DUI if you drive.
  • Drinking coffee, exercising, or taking a cold shower won’t help you sober up? The only effective way to sober up is to give it time.
  • On average, individuals will drive drunk 80 times before they get arrested the first time? This means there are a lot of drunk drivers on the street.
  • Every 51 minutes, a person is killed in a drunk driving accident in the United States? This means as many as 27 people die every day because of drunk driving.
  • If you’re under 21 years of age, no alcohol is allowed to be in your system when you drive? This means that even having one drink can result in a DUI for you if you’re underage.

These are the facts about DUIs. It’s important to know what a serious problem this is. You also need to know the truth before you get behind the wheel of a car under the influence.


Driving under the influence is a problem everywhere in the United States. Statistics tell us that:

  • Close to 30 people die every day from drunk driving.
  • In 2010, there were more than 10,200 people who were killed because of drivers under the influence of alcohol.
  • Their deaths accounted for 31% of all traffic related deaths in the United States.
  • 17% of those deaths involved children between the ages of 0 and 14 years of age.
  • Of those children, 61% of them were riding in alcohol impaired driver’s car.
  • There have been 1.4 million people arrested for driving under the influence.
  • This is only 1% of the 112 million cases of self-reported alcohol-impaired driving.
  • Drugs like marijuana are involved in about 18% of all vehicle driver deaths.
  • These drugs are frequently used along with alcohol, which makes impairment even worse.
  • 34% of drivers with BAC levels of .08 and over are between 21 and 24 years of age.
  • 30% of them are between the ages of 25 and 34.
  • 25% of them are between the ages of 35 and 44.
  • In motorcycle crashes, 28% of drivers had BAC levels of .08 or higher.
  • 44% of these individuals were age 40 or older.
  • 82% of fatal crashes in the United States are caused by drunk drivers.
  • Most of these fatal crashes occur at night.

This information tells us what’s happening all around the country. However, what about Washington State DUIs right here where we live?

According to the CDC

Washington State DUI Statistics

We wish we could say that the situation in Washington State was better. Unfortunately, we can’t say that at all. According to the CDC:

  • Between 2003 and 2012, there have been 1,921 fatal crashes that involved a drunk driver in Washington.
  • The rates of death because of impaired driving in Washington State are just under the national averages.
  • Men in Washington State are much more likely to die because of impaired driving than in other states.
  • The same is true for women.
  • In Washington, 2.1% of people have reported driving after drinking too much.
  • This compares to only 1.9% of people nationwide.
  • In 2009, drunk driving cost taxpayers around $51 billion.

Fortunately, it appears that the number of alcohol-related deaths in Washington State is going down. This is good news. However, it could possibly mean that people are using drugs like marijuana or prescription drugs instead. Regardless, driving under the influence continues to be a problem that needs to be solved. The best way to do this is to educate as many people as possible about the risks, dangers and consequences.

What Happens if You Get a DUI

What Happens if You Get a DUI?

In the State of Washington, if you get a DUI, you will be arrested. You will then have to go to court and speak to the judge to answer to the charges. You will have to have your driver’s license suspended, and it’s difficult to say how long you’ll be without it. You may be able to apply for a restricted license. You will also have to pay heavy fines, and you could have to serve some jail time. In Washington State, you could be placed on probation, or be made to attend special classes. As you can see, driving under the influence simply isn’t worth it. Not only are you gambling with your life, but you could also lose so much in the process.

Changes to Washington’s DUI Laws

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission specifically states that it is working on ways to “increase impaired driving arrests” and “improve prosecution” of individuals who get behind the wheel when they have been drinking or using any other substance that could potentially interfere with their ability to drive safely. The Washington Impaired Driving Work Group makes pointed recommendations about DUI reduction strategies such as:

  • Lowering the number of DUI convictions before being punishable as a felony
  • Increasing mandatory minimum penalties
  • Mandatory ignition interlock devices
  • Sobriety checkpoints
  • Greater penalties for refusing breath/blood tests

Most importantly, the WIDWG supports “improving prosecution and encouraging prosecutors to aggressively enforce impaired driving laws.” This is a deterrent strategy that is supported by 90.9% of Washington residents.

DUI Laws

The Three Most Important Things to Keep in Mind about DUIs in Washington State

Despite an extensive public awareness campaign, impaired driving continues to be a problem in Washington State. In 2015, there were 34,952 DUI arrests in the state. It is estimated that 46% of all traffic fatalities in Washington are due to people driving while impaired. And it’s not getting any better. Over the 2016 July 4th holiday weekend, Washington State Troopers made 211 DUI arrests, 30 MORE than in 2015.

  • The best way to avoid jeopardizing your freedom and safety—or that of someone else—is to simply NOT DRINK/DRUG AND DRIVE.
  • You can get a DUI if you are operating a motor vehicle while impaired by ANY intoxicating substance – legal or not. This includes prescription medications.

Kyle Moore, of the Washington State Patrol, says, “We are seeing a 14% rise in fatal collisions from 2014-2015 when it comes to drug-impaired drivers… One of the new changes we are seeing is that people aren’t realizing that taking these medications, or taking drugs and getting behind the wheel of a car, is as equal if not more dangerous than drinking and driving.”

  • You don’t have to be CONVICTED of a DUI to incur penalties. In Washington State, your license to drive can be suspended for up to TWO YEARS if you are ARRESTED for Driving Under the Influence.

The TRUE Costs of a DUI in Washington State

Being Charged with a DUI in Washington State is extremely inconvenient, embarrassing, and expensive, and the true costs are much higher than most people realize:

  • The MINIMUM fine for a first DUI offense is $940.50, and the MAXIMUM is $5000.
  • The AVERAGE fine imposed on all offenders is $3711.
  • Drivers in Washington State who get a DUI will see their insurance increase by an average of $466.80 per year. In some Washington cities, rates can jump by more than 60%.
  • This increase lasts for FIVE YEARS.
  • The average total extra insurance cost comes to $2334.
  • The Washington Traffic Safety Commission estimates that people charged with a DUI can expect to pay at least $2000 in lawyer’s fees.
  • If your license is suspended/revoked because of a DUI offense and you want to continue driving, you will have to have an ignition interlock device installed on your vehicle. Even first-time offenders will have to keep the device for AT LEAST a year. Installation and monthly fees will cost about $1300 per year.
  • Even merely requesting a DUI hearing costs $375.
  • Mandatory drug treatment may be required.
  • The fee for driver’s license reinstatement after a DUI arrest or conviction is $150.
  • Where you live can determine how much a DUI charge will ultimately cost you. The 10 most expensive Washington cities for DUIs are:
    • Tacoma $11,458
    • University Place $11,457
    • Lakewood $11,423
    • Federal Way $11,270
    • Puyallup $11,159
    • Lynnwood $11,103
    • Seattle $11,089
    • Edmonds $11,055
    • Mountlake Terrace $11,034
    • Auburn $10,986

Guilty of DUI

What Are the Qualifications and Penalties for DUIs in Washington State?

According to the Washington State Legislature, a person is guilty of driving under the influence if:

  • They have an alcohol concentration of .08 or higher within two hours after driving.
  • They are driving a commercial vehicle and have a blood alcohol content of .04.
  • They are under 21 and have a blood alcohol content of .02.
  • They have a THC concentration of 00 or higher within two hours after driving.
  • They drive while they are under the influence/affected by alcohol, marijuana, or any drug– or any combination thereof.

DUI Laws in Washington State It is important to note that the “legal entitlement” to use a substance is NOT inadmissible defense. Even claims that the substance was used after driving are very difficult to prove, because State Law requires that a defendant provide “preponderance of the evidence” that this is the case space AND notifies the prosecution prior to the pretrial hearing. If the breath and/or blood samples are obtained more than two hours after driving, any concentration above 0.00 can be used as evidence to show that the person was affected by or under the influence of alcohol or marijuana. First DUI Arrest If this is a person’s first DUI (or their first within seven years), the violation will be considered a misdemeanor, incurring the following penalties:

  • For BAC’s under 0.15
    • 90-day driver’s license suspension
    • Up to 364 days in jail
    • A fine between $940 – $5000
  • For BAC’s over 0.15 or the refusal of a chemical test –
    • Driver’s license suspension – one year for BAC or two years for refusal
    • Up to 364 days in jail
    • A fine between $1195 – $5000

Prior offenses mean higher fines, more jail time, and longer suspensions/revocations. For example, a person with two prior DUIs would have a minimum fine of $2820, a minimum jail sentence of 120 days, and a four-year license revocation. Additional fines of between $1000 and $3000 will be assessed if there is a passenger under the age of 16 in the vehicle. Felony DUI It is also possible for a person to receive a FELONY DUI conviction resulting in a prison sentence, if:

  • They have four or more prior offenses within the previous 10 years.
  • They have ever been convicted of Vehicular Homicide or Vehicular Assault while under the influence of intoxicants, whether in Washington or any other state.

The penalty for a felony DUI in Washington is up to $10,000 in fines and five years in prison. Getting arrested and/or convicted of a DUI offense – especially multiple times – is usually indicative of a serious addiction to alcohol and/or drugs. If you or someone you care about is struggling with a substance abuse disorder, it only makes sense to get help NOW, rather than LATER, when the consequences and dangers are even higher. Northpoint Recovery is the premier drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in the Pacific Northwest, providing evidence-based treatment services that can return manageability and sanity to your life. Make the call to Northpoint today to get the help, hope, and support you need.

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DUI Laws in WA